Spokane County Sheriff wants body cams for deputies, faces tight 2021 budget

SPOKANE, Wash.–The police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha is sparking urgency across some police departments in the U.S. to equip officers with body cameras.

We’ve seen what happened in that shooting because of cellphone video rather than police body cameras.

Those cameras could have shown what happened in the moments before, but Kenosha deputies don’t have that technology yet.

Spokane County’s Sheriff’s Office is in a similar position; still without body cams, despite talking about it for years.

Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich told 4 News Now he has wanted body cameras for deputies since 2007, because he thinks they can help and ultimately protect them.

But, he’s prioritized spending money on manpower instead of technology, and now with COVID-19 straining next year’s budget, the sheriff will have to get creative if he really wants to buy them.

It’s worth noting, Spokane Police actually did buy them for officers back in 2015, and it has paid off to this point.

“On occasion, a video will be used to document if an officer did something they shouldn’t of, but the overwhelming number of times found is it protects them when people accuse them of doing something they didn’t do,” Terry Preuninger of Spokane Police said.

One example of that comes from an arrest earlier in 2020, where an officer was accused of placing his knee on a man’s neck for too long.

But, SPD then released that video to show the officer quickly moving his leg during the arrest.

Other body cam footage has been used to discipline Spokane officers, such as an incident from 2019 where the use of  K-9 was being investigated.

Because of that body cam footage, police determined the use of the K-9 was warranted, but the officer’s demeanor was not.

The Sheriff’s Office got a feel for body cams during a pilot program they did about five years ago.

Sheriff Knezovich used that to determine it will cost about $750,000 to start up, and he said it would also take about $500,000 per year to maintain.

That pilot program also helps with policy issues as that leg work has already been taken care of.

Knezovich said it will just have to be updated to match any changes made to state law for body cameras.

If he wants them now, he’ll need to squeeze that cost into county budget expected to face 10-15 million dollars in cuts due to covid.

He says his experience with budgets has taught him that there’s never a good time for something new, but “you just have to do it,” he said.

Knezovich also said it’s important to know that body cameras are “not the end all be all” as they only catch a certain angle of what’s going on at the scene.

He’s hoping to purchase them and have them equipped on deputies by 2021.

Despite his desire to buy them, he said they can’t come at the cost of deputies.

He believes he’s already lost too many deputies over the last ten years due to budget cuts, and cutting any more would negatively impact the department’s priority to serve the public.

The county is getting a little help with its budget thanks to some CARES Act funding. The Sheriff’s Office is asking to use $300,000 of that for an updated thermal scanner on its helicopter.

The Spokane County Board of Commissioners isn’t committing to any decisions regarding the 2021 budget just yet. They said everything is on the table and those decisions will be made in December.